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ClassicsOnline Home » WHITEMAN, Paul: Sweet and Low Down (1925-1928)
PAUL WHITEMAN & HIS ORCHESTRA
Vol.3: "Sweet And Low Down"
Original 1927-1929 recordings
In the 1920s Pops Whiteman was already rated King of Showmen long before the advent of the talkies and his monumental, Ziegfeld-style official "coronation" in King Of Jazz, the "stylish, spectacular, revelatory" 1930 Universal film-musical which introduced Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys. True, by the end of the decade he had had some brilliant jazz sidemen through his ranks including Beiderbecke, Carmichael, the Dorseys, Goodman, Trumbauer and Venuti, not to mention a diversity of fine arrangements from Bill Challis, Ferde Grofé, Lennie Hayton, William Grant Still et al but the show was always the thing with Whiteman who, as the annals confirm, notched up a huge catalogue of best-selling hits in a wide range of styles to become the most popular of all the pre-Swing bandleaders.
However, given its rare combination of raw jazz metal and bourgeois sophistication Whitemans could never have been labelled just another "sweet" society band offering a sanitised, diluted version of the black mans music. Nor, indeed, in 1919, when he first set out to exploit the potentialities of jazz on a grand scale, was he quite the first on the scene (the ODJB and, less memorably, Ben Selvin were just a step ahead) albeit his was effectively the first band to turn out regular "hits", popular best-sellers as we now understand that phenomenon.
Born in Denver, Colorado, into an affluent, middle-class background on 28th March, 1890, Paul Whitemans first musical acclimatisation was decidedly classical. His mother was a prominent soloist in local choral and oratorio circles; his father Wilberforce, a noted violinist was also, in his capacity of Music Supervisor to the Denver Education Committee, an organiser and promoter of high-school youth orchestras. He taught his young son the violin and by the age of seventeen Paul was first viola (and occasionally second violin) in the Denver Symphony Orchestra and, from 1911 onwards, violist of the Minetti Quartet. By 1915 he was a member of the San Francisco Peoples Orchestra but already showed a keen interest in the ethnic black music he heard in Barbary Coast dance-joints and speakeasies (he was reputedly fired after his first day with John Tates Café band because he couldnt play jazz!). During World War I he served in the US Navy and led a classically-orientated 57-piece military band stationed at Bear Island, California but after the war he fronted various nine-piece dance-bands at fashionable hotels, first in San Francisco and Los Angeles, then in Atlantic City, at the Ambassador, where his "symphonic jazz" conceptions were given their first serious airing.
Arguably contrived pretentious even these novel, classical arrangements commissioned from his resident pianist Ferde Grofé (1892-1972) nonetheless caught the attention of Victor and secured for Whiteman the recording contract which continued uninterrupted with that Company until 1936. By October 1920 the New York-based Whiteman Orchestra was playing regularly at Broadways Palais de Dance and after its Broadway début in George Whites Scandals of 1922, the following year got top billing in the 1923 edition of Ziegfelds Follies and guest appearances at the London Hippodrome. His records, by this time, were already selling in substantial numbers to the dance-crazed fraternities on both sides of the Atlantic and set an example enthusiastically followed by Jack Hylton and others and, by February 1924 the New York première of George Gershwins "Rhapsody In Blue" had won for Whiteman, rightly or not, a certain dual international cachet as jazzman and "symphonist".
Another catalyst in Whitemans success was radio. From the late 1920s he was a fixture of coast-to-coast networks and, by the time of his mid-1930s Chesterfield broadcasts, an established synonym for quality. He made numerous foreign tours and promoted over fifty bands in the USA, Mexico and Europe. During the late 1930s, in an attempted concession to Swing, he injected renewed spontaneity with his Bouncing Brass (featuring Charlie Teagarden, Miff Mole, Buddy Morrow and George Wettling), his Sax Octette and his Swing Wing. He played to capacity audiences until the mid-1940s, continued to record until the late 1950s and died in his 77th year, a living popular music legend, in Doylestown, Philadelphia, on 29th December, 1967.
Whitemans 1920 recordings sparked a revolution in popular music and for almost two decades his eagerly-awaited latest titles often realised astronomical sales. The Schonberger Brothers "Whispering" (Whitemans early theme-tune) coupled on disc with Richard A. Whitings "Japanese Sandman" became his first charted US No.1. It sold over two million copies worldwide by 1922, and both songs topped the million in sheet-music sales, laying firm foundations for his future successes. Virtually every year until the mid-1930s further No.1s were added to his list, not least José Padillas irresistibly rhythmic Valencia (an eleven-week chart-topper from June 1926) and Lew Pollack and Ernö Rapees My Angel (otherwise "Angela mia", theme-song of the 1928 silent Street Angel and a six-week Whiteman No.1), while other noted hits included Manhattan (a 1925 No.3 instrumental version of a Rodgers & Hart standard from Garrick Gaieties), Ray Hendersons Just A Memory (No.3, in 1927), Charleston (a 1925 No.5 version of the hit from Eubie Blakes Runnin Wild which signalled a new dance step) and I Miss My Swiss (a catchy 1925 No.6 novelty with yodelling by Fritz Zimmerman).
Peter Dempsey, 2002
Transfers and Production: David Lennick
Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton
Original recordings from the collections of David Lennick & John Wilby
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennicks work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, the International Piano Archives at Maryland, Syracuse University and others.